Recognizing your children’s learning styles

recognizing learning styles | discovering how your child learns best

A huge part of homeschooling is much more than teaching material; it’s teaching a child how to learn, how to teach himself. Learning styles play a key part in this process of learning how to learn. By teaching to my child’s unique learning style, I’m not just catering to her preferences, I’m teaching her how she learns best; I’m equipping her with tools for life. What’s more, teaching to my children’s learning styles allows my children to be comfortable with who they are and how they learn. It’s okay if my daughter doesn’t learn the material in the same way her older brother does. They each learn in their own way, and they’re both learning. My daughter doesn’t have to feel stupid or incapable because she doesn’t learn the same way someone else might.

But sometimes, the whole realm of learning styles and modalities can be really overwhelming and confusing. How do you figure out which learning style fits your child? What if your child is in between styles or a little bit of several?

An Explanation of Learning Styles

At it’s very simplest, learning styles can be divided into three broad categories: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. A visual learning style could include both graphics, charts, and pictures, as well as words; it’s any learning preference that involves sight. An auditory learner primarily learns by hearing, preferring spoken directions over written directions and audiobooks more than reading books. The kinesthetic learner is your hands-on learner, learning through exploration, experimentation, and anything that involves doing or moving.

The trouble is, sometimes these categories can be a little too broad. I have two visual learners, but they learn in two entirely different ways. One is visual with language and loves words, and the other would much prefer pictures and graphics. For this reason, many people find learning intelligences or modalities to be more helpful: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, etc. Confused yet?

Knowing how your child learns doesn’t have to be confusing or technical. Who cares if you’ve got the proper name for it? Just know how your child learns best. You can figure this out without a complicated test.

1.  Watch your child play. Watch your child interact with information.

Do you have a child who can memorize anything put to music?

Do you have a child that never reads directions but follows the pictures in those directions instead?

Do you have a child that skips the lego instructions and pictures altogether and jumps into building and exploring?

Do you have a child that likes to order and arrange pieces and information before getting started?

Do you have a child that loves texture and messes and must touch everything?

Do you have a child that learns best in a community or group rather than alone?

You don’t have to know the learning style terms. Just know your child. As you watch your child play legos or organize a game with other children, what strengths does your child use? If your child loves music, add music to your curriculum. If your child loves to explore, hand him some manipulatives and have him work out a math solution before you hit the workbook; or give him a science experiment kit and journal rather than a textbook. If your child learns by pictures, make sure your curriculum includes lots of visuals.

2. Ask for your child’s opinion (if your child is old enough).

I have learned more about my kids by getting their feedback on what curriculum options I’m looking at than perhaps anything else. I’ll show them two or three options that I am considering, and they will readily tell me which they prefer. They know I make the final decision, and they can’t always tell me why they prefer one over the other. But as I notice what they are choosing, it gives me tremendous insight into how they learn best.

Also, as I recognize and praise what my kids are doing and how they learn, they are usually quick to give me ideas of how they’d like to add that to our homeschool day. When my daughter excitedly told me she could spell “Mickey Mouse” because she can sing the Mickey Mouse Club House song, we both knew we needed to add some tunes to our spelling time. When my son excitedly draws and sketches maps for his novel that he’s working on, I recognized we needed to add more drawing to our other subjects. When my daughter could not get the concepts of area and perimeter straight, we did an abstract art piece instead, with perimeter shapes in marker and area shapes in tissue paper.

There is nothing like finding a curriculum or method that allows your child to learn in his way, that allows him to succeed in learning and to love it. Homeschooling allows you to celebrate who your child is and to capitalize on that uniqueness. And best of all, it’s not complicated. It’s just a matter of recognizing what makes your child unique.

My Kinesthetic/Hands-on Preschooler

I recently read a post on kinesthetic or hands-on learners that was absolutely intriguing. For one, it totally reminded me of my daughter in every way, but she’s only three and I hesitated to peg her learning style so early. And then I realized how helpful the tips for this learning style can be for any preschooler. Read through this list of traits for kinesthetic learners and tell me you can’t see your preschooler here.

  • They like to move: fidget, tap, wiggle. Bottom-line, they can’t sit still.
  • They can’t “see” anything unless they’ve touched it.
  • They are usually coordinated and do well at sports.
  • They have a dramatic way of expressing themselves.
  • They enjoy getting their hands dirty.
Now, aside from the coordination factor, I’d say that’s a pretty accurate description of many 3-4 year old (with a few exceptions: my son would definitely have been an exception to some of those).

As I did a little more research, though, I loved the ideas that I saw and could immediately see the potential for my preschooler.

  • Memorize facts by movement (hand motions, jumping jacks, etc.)
  • Take plenty of “movement breaks.” Every 10-15 minutes (or even more often depending on your preschooler), provide a wiggle activity or something to encourage movement.
  • Learn with lots of games and tactile activities—let your preschooler touch!
  • One post even suggested replacing the desk chair with an exercise ball (for older kinesthetic learners, don’t know how well that would work with my preschooler…hmmm).

Reading about this learning style really helped me to understand why certain activities were such a success and why others totally bombed, and it was extremely reassuring. The beauty of homeschool is the ability to tailor learning for what fits the kid. If my preschooler would rather match “Daddy” letters to “baby”  letters than drill through a set of cards as the curriculum instructs, I can go with it! She’ll learn more than just letters; she’ll discover that learning is fun.